Russell Street Deli, the beloved Eastern Market staple, closed in 2019 after a 30-year run and a bitter public landlord-tenant dispute. Now, one of the former owners says he’s found the perfect spot for a pizza and pasta restaurant in Hamtramck.
“Friends! Russell Street Deli is not coming back but we do have some GOOD NEWS. We’re going to open a new place. Yay!,” reads the appeal on the Indiegogo crowdfunding page. Ben Hall, a previous owner of the deli, says he’s looking to raise funds for a new restaurant at the Baker Streetcar Bar site on Joseph Campau Avenue. Baker’s owner Rocky Radtke is looking to retire, Hall says.
The bar site, a fixture on Hamtramck’s pub scene for several decades, needs capital improvements, including an exhaust hood and a walk-in cooler, and Hall and his wife need money to make it work. “We need $175,000. Whoa! We can’t do it without you. Gulp!” Hall posts on the Indiegogo campaign page.
Hall tells Eater Detroit he’s been looking long and wide to purchase a new site, and the opportunity to rent a place in Hamtramck comes at an opportune time as other restaurants are faltering amid the pandemic and the current prices for restaurant equipment are “10 cents on the dollar.”
“It’s obviously a buyer’s market right now, so the prices aren’t getting any better,” says Hall, who also says he “loves” the prospective landlord, John Grossi, owner of Amicci’s Pizza, and a deal “seems doable.” The rental price is “delicious” adds Hall, and “less than what we were paying at the deli” but more than what current tenant Radtke is paying.
Pizza is also a good fit for Detroit, where the median household income is $31,000 a year, Hall says. “In America, every family eats pizza.”
Russell Street Deli’s landlord dispute and subsequent closure in August 2019 sparked an outcry amid heightened concerns that new investors were buying up property in the popular Eastern Market food district. The deli was notable for paying its employees decent living wages and for its staff, many of whom worked there for years.
Hall, who’s currently teaching at Bennington College and consulting with the James Beard Foundation, says the restaurant’s opening is contingent on the success of the fundraiser. “If we don’t get it, I go back to being a teacher, which isn’t the worst gig in the world.”